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I knit, crochet, sew, and embroider. Most people would categorize these crafts as traditional, domestic, and feminine, and your general assumption (no matter how enlightened you are) is probably going to be that someone engaging in these projects is female. When I advertised knitting classes for kids lately, a couple of people asked me if boys were allowed to attend. No one thought to ask me if it was for girls; that was a given. Major industry studies on consumer trends in needlearts make sure to cover the demographics of age and regional location, but don’t even bother with gender. It’s just assumed that they’re women.
Need further proof that knit and crochet are still considered effeminate? A Yahoo search for “what percent of crocheters are men” turned up a cringe worthy first page of search results including articles on the percentage of gay men in America and a Wikipedia article on the demographics of sexual orientation. Seriously, Yahoo? Ug. Stereotypes are alive and well in America.
Many people know at least one male crocheter or knitter- one knitting student gets help from her father who learned when he was little, and the Rabbi who performed my baby naming is an avid crocheter. Despite the male stitchers we know though, that does tend to be more the exception than the rule. And, for what it’s worth, this stereotype is at least lightly rooted in fact. A majority of needlearts consumers are female.*
As a female engaging in these crafts, I’m feeding into traditional gender roles. I’m a woman who does womanly things. I’ve seen at least one post from someone stitching in public who was chided for “setting feminism back 100 years”. What I’ve discovered however, is that by doing traditional crafting, I’m actually breaking down traditional gender roles for at least one important male- my son.
My house is full of yarn and fabric and all the notions needed for these crafts. Watching me stitch has inspired my son to do so also. He’s asked me to teach him to crochet and knit. He’s great at a chain stitch. With the proliferation of fabric coming into the house, he’s started some basic sewing, and is begging me for fabric and sewing supplies of his own. (That’s going to be his Chanukah present. Shhhh. It’s a surprise.)
I’d be lying if I said he hasn’t picked up on the gender bias in crafting. He asked me once, in his plaintive little voice, if it was true that yarn was for boys too. “Yes,” I replied, my heart breaking a little, “of course it is.” I wanted to warn him. I wanted to tell him that yarn is for everyone but that there are some hard headed people out there who don’t understand that. They might make fun of him. I wanted to prepare him for the gender politics that surround traditional crafts. But he’s too little to understand the complexity of the situation, so I didn’t. Instead I’ll just continue to help him to craft. He’ll learn from me, not that stitching is for women, but that stitching is something we can do together as part of quality time in a loving family. That’s a stereotype I’d be fine with.
*What’s a majority? 2 hours this morning on at least seven major industry websites fails to find me the numbers. Ravelry currently has over 70% female members, while The Knitting Guild of America is at 99%
My 3 boys have all asked me to teach them to either knit, crochet, or both, and sew too (they’ve done plastic canvas work for me). I have no problem with it whatsoever. My middle guy especially LOVES arts & crafts & has yarn in his room for finger knitting. Every year I have them make things for the school craft fair so they can ‘earn’ some money – they’ve even made scarves on my knitting machine. They love it! It teaches them that they have to work to earn pay, and it also teaches them time management…ie. if they can’t get their homework done first, then don’t get to craft. After having 3 boys,SO MANY people have said to me, “Are you going for a girl, so you can teach them your crafts?” Erm…nope! We’re done, and crafts shouldn’t be designated to only the females of the world! I think the craft industry in general has a HUGE market potential, which is largely untapped in the male gender. I’ll keep crafting with my boys as long as they ask. 🙂
I meant to teach them all to sew, knit and crochet, but so far it’s only stuck for my daughter. Except when they got into a finger puppet arms race and wanted more mythical creatures for their war, then at least the two youngest learned how to do the running stitch on felt. My oldest boy weaves, and makes a wonderful cheesecake.
I may be falling back on baseline that “everyone needs to be able to sew on buttons, fix a hem, and cook cheap, healthy meals on a student budget.” We’ll see if we get any higher than that.
I’m still not good at changing tires though.